Halo 3: A Great Ending to an Amazing Trilogy that Builds on the Prior Games

Halo 3 - GameSpot

  “Halo 3” brings a finality to the Trilogy of the war against the Covenant and Flood and explores Master Chief and Cortana’s relationship further as we are given a game that has the apocalyptic proportions of the first game and plays tribute to the first game in a lot of the missions you play. This is one of my favorite games as it is a story with stakes and the variety of gameplay and combat is the best it has ever been in this Franchise outside of “Reach.” I still prefer the first game in some ways simply due to the difficulty and Master Chief not being the immortal superhero he is in later games but this is very much a favorite game that I highly recommend.

The game was developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Studios in 2007.

The story picks up where “Halo 2” left off as The Prophet of Truth has landed on Earth and initiated his plans and Master Chief must work with the Arbiter to investigate and stop his plans upon the planet. All the while he is haunted by visions of Cortana.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is the best it has ever been. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori continue to capture the epic nature of this space Opera as Master Chief, The UNSC, the Arbiter and the Elites and Cortana race to save the Universe from the Flood, the Covenant and Guilty Spark.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is the smoothest it has ever been. The vehicles drive better than they ever have. Enemies are challenging and smart and mission variety is fantastic. My favorite missions were dealing with

The Universe – The Haloverse is an amazing sci. fi. universe and all the elements of what I love about it are on display. We have the Covenant Civil War, the Forerunner mythology with the Ark and the Halos, Gravemind and heroes from past games. This is a game that finishes a lot of these stories and completes it a beautiful way.

The Stakes – The stakes are high from the get-go and rise from there. You have Truth and Covenant forces in Africa digging in and actively attacking UNSC forces. This soon rises when Truth and his forces escape into a mysterious portal and the Flood arrives on the scene. From here we arrive on the Ark where a Halo is created and we have the challenge of using it while not bringing about the end of all life as Guilty Spark once again tries to end all life like Truth was doing as all along Gravemind consumes and seeks to survive. The Flood are a flood and once they arrive on the scene they never stop growing and being around as a threat.

The Arbiter and the Elites/Sangheili – The Arbiter is back and works with UNSC and Master Chief until the Elite’s Shipmaster arrives with a fleet to help against the Covenant and the Flood. Both are fantastic characters and give us the tension between humanity and the Elites. We also see that the fleet that came to help doesn’t even know if their homeworld is safe as stopping the Covenant and Flood have been their only priority. This leads them going home with the Arbiter as the implied leader leading the Sangheili into a new destiny no longer controlled by the Covenant.

Gravemind and the Flood – Gravemind isn’t the final boss but he is up there as it races against time to stop Truth from activating the Rings on the Ark and even makes a temporary alliance with the Arbiter and Master Chief once more to make sure that happens. For much of the game it is seeking to consume and control Cortana but fails as Master Chief gets to her in time. From here we see it defeated at High Charity and make a final stand against them on the new Halo Ring as it seeks to stop the Ring from activating and destroying it. It fails but never stops being a terror throughout the game. The new Flood forms are also more of a challenge too as there are some that can only be hurt in certain areas and the quantity and variety has grown since the first 2 games.

The Prophet of Truth – After betraying the Prophet of Mercy last game Truth is flying high this game. He is successful in most of what he sets out to do (even activating the Ark for “The Great Plan”) and kills Lieutenant Commander Amanda Keyes. He never stops believing in his faith and the challenges he sets against you are some of the funnest missions in the game. When the Arbiter got revenge against him it was really rewarding. Truth was a magnificent bastard and a great villain.

The Ark – The Ark is a forerunner installation that made the rings and could activate them. It has a really cool design like a twisted star and exploring it was a lot of fun. The mystery surrounding it is fascinating too as Guilty Spark even admits that it’s creators hid the existence of the Ark from it.

The Cost – The cost is real in this game. The Elites destroy half of Africa when to stop the Flood infection. Most of the UNSC fleet is destroyed by the Covenant in the initial battle and in the end Lieutenant Commander Amanda Keyes and Sargent Major Avery Johnson are both killed over the course of saving the world. Keyes is killed by Truth and the Covenant while Johnson is killed by Guilty Spark. I felt those deaths as we really got to know those 2 characters over the past games. In the end their sacrifices help save the Universe. There are also all those consumed by the Flood who perished and Cortana and Master Chief are Missing In Action in an unknown part of the Universe.

The Cons:

Cortana and Master Chief Moments – Master Chief and Cortana have a real strange relationship from 2 and through 3, at least as it is presented in game. It is almost romantic but Cortana says things to him that sound like things his kidnapper and maker Dr. Halsey would have said to him. Dr. Halsey is part of her program (Thank you “Reach” for telling us that) so in a way they have both been scarred and wronged by her and both follow the programming she put upon them but that element isn’t really delved into. Master Chief is effectivly a super hero who can’t get hurt and Cortana is the one you are saving and after the one with you and the Arbiter who is saving the Universe. The Dr. Halsey but romantic elements are my biggest issue with the writing, which stands out even more as Cortana is the narrator who starts the game and Master Chief’s last words when they are trapped alone at the end of the game is to wake him up if she needs him. The weird romantic chemistry doesn’t go away. I wish them being survivors of Dr. Halsey and trauma had been explored more as that I think connects them more than anything else, but we don’t know that about Master Chief in-game so all we’re left with are the strange romantic elements. The other issue is how Master Chief continues to be untouchable and unkillable as the game starts out with him falling from the sky and waking up fine. This was an issue in 2 that 3 continues and really the whole romantic element between Chief and Cortana started in 2 so that is where my problems with 3 really come from.

Rating “Halo 3” versus the original is tough as 3 takes a lot of the best parts of 1 and builds on them. We have a variety of missions and gameplay. The lore is delved into where there wasn’t much lore in the first game. Really the biggest issue with 3 is how Master Chief is a super hero so it is hard for me to feel he is ever at risk. This game has the narrative flow of the first game and all of the missions are really fun and challenging. For me the only reason I would not rate it above 1, even though the graphics and gameplay are improved is the fact that 1 did it first and the problems from “Halo 2” in regards to Master Chief and Cortana do carry over where they didn’t exist in 1. This is still a fitting end for the series and the Master Chief and Cortana story as it ends how it begins. A Spartan in stasis to be awoken once more when the universe needs saving.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10 One of my favorite games in this Franchise.

 

 

Halo: Reach – A Fantastic Exploration of the Cost of War

Buy Halo - REACH - Microsoft Store

     “Halo: Reach” is easily the best “Halo” game of the Franchise. This is a story with stakes and consequences and some phenomenal character development. This was the first time the UNSC characters are truly compelling and humanity is complex and nuanced. This is something the core games of the Franchise don’t really give us. They give us human archetypes but not nuance and complexity (at least in Halo 1-3 (haven’t played ODST or 5). This is also a game with a ton of mission variety and does the rising stakes really well, nearly as well as the original game.

The game was developed by Bungie and produced by Microsoft Studios.

The story follows a group of 5 Spartans called Noble Team when Noble Six joins their team as they investigate what the Covenant is doing on the planet of Reach.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – This game continues the quality soundtrack from past games and does a wonderful job playing on the heart strings when we experience character deaths or moments of heroism. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori continue their amazing work.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is the height of “Halo” as we get the greatest variety of missions and the levels get progressively harder. You get the great ground vehicle combat of the later Halo games (2 and 3 specifically) some amazing space combat that I haven’t seen in any other Halo game and the greatest variety covenant foes as you face both Elites and Brutes along with the standard variety of Grunts, Jackals, Drones and Hunters. I had so much fun beating this game and playing the missions again with a friend.

Dr. Halsey – Dr. Halsey created the Spartan program and because of this it is hard to call her good. The Spartans we meet were child soldiers and not all of them survived when they were turned into Super Soldiers. To them she admits care and keeps distance between and feels angry when they question her judgment and calls. She is a wonderfully complex character and I wish the Franchise as a whole could have given us more nuanced humans like her. She also created Cortana and it is up to your team to get Cortana to The Pillar of Autumn.

Noble Team – I love Noble Team. Noble Six (the player character) is the heroic rookie who always has his teammates back and is inspired by their actions. You have the reserved leader Carter who is easily the most balanced of them. He sacrifices his life to stop a giant Covenant Scarab Tank from killing you and Emile. You have Jun the thoughtful sniper and one survivor the the Fall of Reach. You have Kat who is Carter’s second-in-command the one willing to take risks to learn truth or complete the mission who is sadly killed by a sniper when evacuating civilians. There is Emile who is the hardened soldier who warms to you over time (wears a skull painting over his helmet) and dies from an Elite’s sword and there is Jorge. Jorge is the only Spartan-II on the Team and risks his life to defeat the Covenant cruiser above Reach. He is the first to inspire Noble Six and his death is felt by the team as each of them probably knows that his end will most likely be their end as well. This element of tragedy and getting to know your team is what I wish “Rogue One” could have been. This is the suicide mission done right.

The Ending and Fall of Reach – This game is the story of how Reach fell to the Covenant and even you as a Spartan Super Soldier is unable to change that. What the game does well though is that you rescue tons of civilians and in the end deliver Cortana to The Pillar of Autumn which saves humanity in the long run. This is all expressed in the Epilogue which has power behind it as you see nearly every member of Noble Team die except for Jun who survives. This is one of the few games where you lose and in turn it does a fantastic job of giving the player the cost of war.

The Cost of War – This game shows us the cost of war both in the lost of civilians and soldiers and how no matter how heroic a person is, sometimes you die in battle. This is told through the loss of the majority of Noble Team and the events they witness as they attempt to save as many lives as possible.

This is the best of the “Halo” Franchise and I hope if they continue to make “Halo” games that they will learn from this one. It is possible to tell a complete and contained story that has stakes without the need for it to be apocalyptic and world ending. This game is the story on a personal level and is elevated all the more because of it. I wish humans had been written this well in the other games as this game truly shows the potential and amazingness of the Halo Universe.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The perfect “Halo” Game.

 

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary – Still A Great Space Opera and Introduction to an Awesome Universe

Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary HD Wallpaper | Combat evolved ...

“Halo” is a game that I played multiple times growing up, but never had the chance to complete until now. I remember playing it at friend’s houses in High School and College and each time found myself fully drawn and involved in whatever mission we’d do or if we’d start from the beginning. This is game is an epic space opera and the simple mystery and story serves it so well. The gameplay also holds up after all these years and the A.I. being strategic leads to some wonderful challenges during the missions. Without going into spoilers, this is a game that has been out for years and is one I highly recommend. I bought the “Master Chief Collection” on Steam and the Anniversary version of “Halo” gives you the fascinating option of tabbing between the original graphics that look like they are from an N64 in quality to the more beautiful modern graphics today. If you are a fan of shooters and science fiction games I’d say this one is well worth a buy.

The original “Halo” was made in 2001 with Microsoft releasing the “Anniversary” version in 2011. The “Anniversary edition was developed by 343 Industries and Saberinteractive, with Bungie, Gearbox Interactive and Westlake Interactive developing the original game with the publisher being Microsoft Studious and Macsoft.

The story follows Master Chief when he is awoken from cryosleep when the retreating United Nations Space Command (UNSC) ship Pillar of Autumn stumbles upon a mysterious Halo. From here Master Chief and Cortana must uncover the mysteries surrounding the Halo and what the enemy Covenant forces are seeking upon it.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Gameplay – The gameplay still holds up to this day. The enemies react and think strategically, with Elites jumping and dodging and the grunts who follow them panicking. There are also the Hunters who can only be hurt by being shot in the back and Flood who have multiple weapons and attack in hordes. You can use Covenant weapons and vehicles and the play very different from UNSC vehicles and weapons. The mission progression forces you to learn and get good with all of these things and rewards you for well done tactics against them. The game is so much fun.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack one of the best in any videogame. It has this gothic operatic feel to it that gives you the stakes and how epic the war to save humanity is. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori truly created a beautiful masterpiece. I’ve used this soundtrack in the past for creative writing it inspires so.

The Universe – This a fantastic universe we are introduced to. We have humanity on the run but still fighting against the larger Covenant forces that are seeking to wipe them out. Along with this we get the mystery of the Halo and with it the Forerunners and the Flood and hints at a greater world that we are a part of. I’m a huge fan of this universe and finally finishing the game that started it all showed me where it all began.

The Covenant – The Covenant as they are presented in this game are an Alliance of aliens seeking to annihilate humanity. They have advanced technology and are seeking power to end the war. I loved fighting them. The Elites have cloaked units, can ride vehicles and command Jackels (snipers) and Grunts (the main ground soldiers) against you as well as fielding large creatures called the Hunters who travel in packs of 2. When the Flood are released they are in the same boat as you as the Flood overwhelm both the Human and Covenant forces on the Halo.

The Flood – The Flood are a parasitic species who turn their hosts into zombies and seek to consume all life. They are so creepy and I loved their horror movie introduction and the fact that they send so many at you with such a variety of weapons that you need to always be moving in order not to get overwhelmed. This game is full of apocoylptic threats to Humanity…from the Covenant, to Guilty Spark and the purpose of the Halos and the most horrifying unending Flood.

The Mystery of the Halo – The Halo function a lot like the Reapers in “Mass Effect.” They are there to wipe out all organic life so that the Flood will not win as all it takes is one flood in order to spread and when they spread they cannot stop…so the Forerunner plan was to starve them and ending all life was the way to do so. We see this all through Master Chief and Cortana’s eyes as they learn about the truth of the Halo along with us. This was great storytelling and part of what makes the game work so well.

343 Guilty Spark – Guilty Spark is an A.I. who in has lost all contact with the other Halos. You get the idea it’s gone a little made in the time it has been and all it really has is the program and activating the Halo if the Flood ever becomes free. Guilty Spark is very matter of fact even while doing devastating experiments and even has nostalgia at the time before during the Forerunners, which you can listen to at Terminals. It really is a fascinating character and I liked the twist that in the end it was the main antagonist, not the Flood or Covenant who had been the main threats through most of the game.

The Rising Stakes and Ending – This movie has consistent rising stakes and in the end all the people Master Chief was trying to protect are destroyed by the Covenant, Flood or when Master Chief and Cortana destroy the Halo. The universe is saved but it costs everything. I felt that and the game handles the rising stakes so well. You begin saving squads to bring the fight to the Covenant but then your Squad releases the Flood and eventually they consume your boss Captain Keyes and most of the UNSC forces. Even at the end the dropship coming to save you is shot down by Covenant Banshees leaving you to make a last minute escape out of the Pillar of Autumn before you blow up the core and prevent Guilty Spark from activating the Halo.

Okay:

Master Chief and Cortana – Master Chief is alright. I appreciate how sassy Cortana is to him but I don’t know his motivation beyond the mission or why he was in cryosleep. They care about the crew and their fellow soldiers but I feel like the relationship could have been developed further. These were two minds that needed to depend fully on one another to destroy the Halo and stop Guilty Spark from destroying all life in the Universe. Again, they weren’t bad but the relationship was pretty basic compared to Jack and BT in “Titanfall 2.”

The Cons:

Defining Enemy Leadership – We have the Flood and the Covenant but in the first game we don’t really learn much about who are what they are or who leads them. We know both are aliens and the Flood are all about consuming everything but Guilty Spark has way more definition and clear goals than either forces. I know this gets rectified in 2 but if Halo 2 had never been made and this is how the world had ended the game would feel underwritten here. They all still feel like a threat and the stakes continue to rise, but I wanted more world building in this game. We see everything through Master Chief’s eyes but besides Cortana and Guilty Spark not many people answer his questions or give him information beyond the mission.

This is one of my favorite games and it does still hold up after all these years. If you are a fan of first-person shooters, epic science fiction space operas and want an introduction to one of my favorite science fiction universes you should check out this game. This game is a classic and was Microsoft’s way of selling their game systems for good reason. I look forward to beating the rest of the series.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great introduction to this fantastic universe.

Titanfall 2 – Mercs, Mechs and a Hero’s Journey

Titanfall 2 - Cover Poster | Sold at Abposters.com

      “Titanfall 2” is one of the best RPGs I have ever played. I have not played the other games in the “Titanfall Franchise” but after this I think I will. I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and mechs. This is a game with rich lore, awesome gameplay and a truly memorable story and multi-player. This is a very beautiful game and the game itself is on par with the cinematics that take place before and after action in the campaign. I’ll get into more details below but this is a game that I highly recommend.

The game was developed by Respawn Entertainment and distributed by Electronic Arts while being directed and written by Steve Fukuda who co-wrote it with Jesse Stern and Manny Hagopian.

The story follows Jack Cooper (Matthew Mercer) as he trains to become a pilot of a Titan when his first mission goes awry leading to him being forced to become a Pilot of a Titan and fulfill the original mission.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Graphics and Cinematics – This is an immersive and beautiful game. Whether it is in-game or the videos between missions and before they start. It pulls you into the world and the life of a Titan pilot.

Frontier Defense – Frontier Defense is one of the multi-player options and it is my favorite multi-player co-op I’ve played in a long time. Frontier Defense has you choose Titans who play different roles as you protect the Harvester from attacks from IMC forces as they attack you in 5 waves. My favorite Titans are Scorch who is a defensive heavy and Ion who is an offensive unit with a fantastic lazer attack as their ultimate. I’ve tried out all the Titans and learning how to play them all and leveling up their skills gives Frontier Defense so much replay value. I’ve been playing it with two of my friends and look forward to doing so once more.

The Campaign – The campaign is solid and is a wonderful hero’s journey. No character is complicated but the simple tropes they represent are given nuance and no character is perfect. The stakes also remain high through the entire narrative as you have to stop the IMC from using a Fold weapon powered by the Ark that they hope to use the destroy the militia homeworld of Harmony. After your mentor is killed he hands over control of his Titan By-7274 to you in order for you to fulfill the mission and stop the IMC and the Apex Predator mercenaries they have sent after you.

A Hero’s Journey and BT-7274 – Jack Cooper’s story is a fairly basic hero’s journey. Jack goes from being a rifleman who is thrust into the role of a Titan Pilot after his mentor is killed. It is at this point that we see him and BT-7274 develop trust and affection for one another. BT is very literal while Jack likes to joke around. I really enjoyed their dynamic and how their relationship is developed as BT learns to understand different expressions of speech and in the end sacrifices his life to save Jack as losing his former pilot forever changed and he would do anything to never lose another pilot. BT is the best character in the game and I felt when he sacrificed himself in the end to save the day.

The Apex Predators – The Apex Predators are the mercenaries sent by IMC to stop the Frontier Militia this game. There are the unhinged members like Kane and Richter. Professionals like  Ash, Viper and Slone and the leader Blisk who respects you so much after defeating his crew that he gives you one of their cards and lets you live. Fighting them once so much fun as each involved different tactics. Viper attacked you from the air and had heavy adds attacking you. Ash was fast and fought melee style in her Titan and Slone attacked with a bunch of different adds, could warp around the area and had a powerful lazer attack. Defeating each of these bosses was part of what made the campaign so much fun and I loved their unique personalities and Titans.

The Cons:

The IMC – The Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) are the overarching big bad is just an evil corporation trying to wipe out the rebellion (Frontier Militia). The Apex Predators all have unique personalities and drives but the only agenda of the IMC is to wipe out the Frontier Militia. What is the world they imagine and want? We get flashbacks of them in control of the planet but never what their overarching ideology and goals are. This was a shame as they felt wasted as an antagonist.

If you are looking for a game with a fantastic campaign, fun multi-player and intriguing world you should check this game out. I intend to check out the rest of the “Titanfall Franchise.” If the rest of the series is this fun then I can’t wait to explore the wonderful lore and universe of this fantastic sci. fi. series. To anyone looking for a great FPS with an amazing immersive world than this is the game for you.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

To The Moon – A Beautiful Exploration of Trauma, Love and Dreams

Save 75% on To the Moon on Steam

   “To The Moon” is an amazing game and story. It was created by Kan Gao on the RPG Maker XP and gives us a wonderful psychological science fiction story. This is a game that I highly recommend. There is a solid mystery story and the soundtrack draws you into the conflict and world that Kan Gao created. I’ll be getting into the details of what make the game work later on so I want to get the great told up front as the mystery is what drives the story. I did this game as a “Let’s Play” where I played through it with one of my closest friends who introduced me to the game in the first place.

The game was created by Kan Gao and developed and published by Freebird Games.

The story follows Dr. Watts and Dr. Roselane who work for the Sigmund Corporation whose job is to fulfill dying people’s last wish. The two Doctors must fulfill Johnny’s wish by entering his memories and help him get to the Moon.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is absolutely beautiful. It is reminscent of Claude Debussy, specifically “Claire de Lune.” Kan Gao and Laura Shigihara did an absolutely fantastic job on this soundtrack. There is a melancholy feel to the entire soundtrack and it blends in well with the themes of trauma and love that are explored over the course of the game.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is simple but fun. You move around as the Doctors collecting items in the real world and in Johnny’s memoryscape. In his memoryscape you create items tied to memories in order to jump further back into his past and in turn create the program of the wish so that the patient’s last memories will be false ones of their wish coming true. There is also variety too as there are puzzles when you activate an item that lets you jump back in the past, the search for the items themselves and even some simple combat puzzles and even Whac-A-Mole. It is quite fun and I was never bored.

The Story – The story is what drives the game and it is fantastic. Dr. Watts and Roselane have a great dynamic with Watts being a giant nerd who can be a jerk while Roselane is sentimental and acts on the fly. Johnny’s backstory is compelling too as we meet his wife River and explore their relationship and eventually arrive at the moment of trauma that defined his life in his childhood. In all of this is the search for where his wish to go the moon was first born and how Watts and Roselane explore the narrative draws you in.

Dr. Watts and Dr. Roselane – Watts and Roselane have a great dynamic. Watts is a giant nerd who pretends not to be sentimental while Roselane is very sentimental but also can be harsh and by the books. In the end she is the one who takes a huge risk in order to bring about Johnny’s wish once they find why in his old age he’s forgotten about his original dream. Roselane was my favorite character and I loved how much her actions drive the story.

Johnny and River – Johnny and River is the main romance of the story. Johnny is the old man who is dying and we see how much of his life was spent by River and the problems they. River is on the autism spectrum (like myself) and at times they have trouble communicating with one another sometimes but the love is there until the end. They had a fascinating dynamic and in the end the program brings them together again when Roselane changes the program of their original first date. In this we see how much they cared for one another and that it was a love that neither of them was fully able to express in words.

The Moment of Trauma and Consequences – Watts and Roselane come to find that Johnny has blocked out trauma from his childhood, which keeps them from achieving his dream until he and they face it once more. The trauma is that his twin brother Joey was run over by his mother by accident. She was never able to make peace with this and always calls Johnny Joey. It is so sad and is a huge reason that he isn’t able to be fully open with River. The trauma defined him.

The Ending – Roselane changes the past by saving Joey and in Johnny’s last memories he joins NASA and as it turns out River does too. This happens due to their first meeting during the fair where they escape to watch the stars and moon as they don’t want to be around people. It is in this first meeting they say if they ever get separated they’ll meet once more on the moon. It is so sweet and I like that Johnny got to experience a life he never got to live with his brother and have a life still with River. It was perfection and blended with the soundtrack so amazingly.

If you are a fan of RPGs in the style of “Dragon Quest” but are good with a game with very little combat and simple puzzles you should check this game out. I love it and it is easily one of my favorite games. The narrative is tight, the humor is fun and how trauma and relationships are explored is done so well. I loved this game and look forward to playing the sequel. There is an animated film in development by Kan Gao, and when it comes out I will be watching it.

Final Score: 10 / 10

 

Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne – An Improvement in Gameplay, Characters and Lore of the “Warcraft” Universe

     “Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne” is a game that still holds up to this day. I came back to play it after beating it back in High School and found the challenge level one that grew me as a player. I also found myself drawn into the nuance in the story that the initial game lacked. When I think Blizzard for me at it’s greatest it is this. This was around the time I beat the first “Diablo” and got all the way to Baal in “Diablo 2” before returning the borrowed game to my friend. This was a game I had bought with my money. It was worth all the replay value and my eventual enjoyment of “Heroes of the Storm,” which I believe rose out of the hero dependent missions and maps you play in the “Bonus Campaign,” “The Founding of Durotar.” This game was a return to what I love about Blizzard gameplay and story at it’s best.

The game was released in July 1st 2003 by Blizzard and was written by Chris Metzen and directed by Frank Pearce Jr.

The story picks up at the end of “Wacraft III: Reign of Chaos” with Illidan Stormrage summoning the Naga to unknown purposes as his Warden Maiev Shadowsong hunts him to discover his purposes and imprison him once more.

SPOILERS in the story ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematics – The cinematics in this game are so beautiful. The fact that we see compelling characters like Illidan and Arthas being the soul focus versus one none evils like Archimonde or Mannoroth shows how this was an upgrade. In both cases are characters are making a choice and in playing the game or in living the game up to the point we have, we see the implication of that choice. The level of detail draws you in and when you see certain reveals whether it is the Naga or Arthas being one with the Lich King when he puts on the helm is powerful. These are cinematics that mean something and are presented beautifully.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is more challenging than “A Reign of Chaos” as each unit was granted something that they lacked. The Scourge lacked tanks and they got the Crypt Lord, the Horde lacked healing and they got the Shadow Hunter. “The Frozen Throne” balanced “Reign of Chaos” in so many ways that it can only be accounted for if you are challenging where you are currently. I’m curious if “Warcraft Reforged” will take this challenge further. I hope it will. The challenge of the campaign improved me as a player and made the victories all the more sweet.

The World – “Warcraft” has a rich universe and this one introduces “The Forsaken,” “The Naga,” “The Blood Elves,” and “The Illdari.” All these factions get explored further in “World of Warcraft” but the seed is planted here and given justice. “Reign of Chaos” enriched the universe but didn’t break any tropes. With Sylvanas, Kael, Vashj and Illidan this game did, which is what I’d argue where Blizzard really thrives in storytelling. Each of the characters I mentioned is a different shade of grey, driven by more than simply power.

The Characters – I was in this game for the characters and it was the reason I beat the campaign. Even though I’d beaten the game back in High School, I wanted to see where the story would go. Coming back years later I wasn’t disappointed. Each new growth of character is earned in gameplay and you feel the pressure the character feels. This is a game I will play again in full, whereas “Reign of Chaos” I will play some missions again but not the full game. That is all due to characters which “The Frozen Throne” does better in gameplay and writing.

DOTA and Custom Games – It was out of “The Frozen Throne” that we got one of my favorite games “Heroes of the Storm” that I am still playing. As well as all the pre-cursors like “Defense of the Ancients” which started the whole tower defense gameplay which eventually became it’s own game and also “League of Legends.” This game has had a larger effect on games than many realize. This was the precursor to hero gameplay with  running units (that was the finale of the “Found of Durotar” campaign). For that I will be grateful for as it gave me casual fun gameplay with “Heroes of the Storm” that I play to this day.

Rating the Campaigns – I’m rating each campaign on their own merits. This is a campaign that starts out good and becomes great. Unlike “Brood War” there is so much growth you are a part of and play a part in making possible (Illidan, Kael, Sylvanas, Arthas) that it can’t be ignored. The reason you win is because of your RTS strategy and how well you play your heroes. That for me makes a great game.

Sentinels Campaign: Terror of the Tides – The Night Elf Campaign is the weakest of the 4 campaigns though I’d say it is still challenging and reveals new lore. The new lore is the revelation of the Naga who are allied with Illidan after being turned into Serpent form after their fount of power was destroyed. From Maiev Shadowsong’s perspective (Illidan’s Warden) we see how driven she is to write the wrongs of his escape. She is obsessed and takes a Javier from “Les Miserables” role. Later when she sends for help after witnessing Illidan take the “Eye of Sargeras” and losing a close friend it becomes more fully about the Night Elves. The destruction he does on Night Elf towns with the Satyr (Cursed Demon Night Elves and Naga) we see the reason why. From here we see Tyrande and Malfurion coming to aide, which after rescuing her leads to them allying with the Blood Elves (High Elves have embraced Demonic Energy to feed after the death of the Sunwell). Here we see that Maiev is obsessed as after Illidan’s use of “The Eye” is stopped and her lie of saying Tyrande was torn to shreds was not true. The final mission is Malfurion and Illidan teamed up to save Tyrande, in which after Illidan leaves and promises not to return. We get some level of peace between the brothers though as Maiev’s forces chase after Illidan into the portal he created. Maiev was the weakest part of the story but it is still solidly good. Sets up the rest of the campaign beautifully.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Alliance Campaign: Curse of the The Blood Elves – This is the campaign where for all intents and purposes the High Elves leave the Alliance. This is a huge deal and we see that it happens is due to a racist general who only sees the other races as pawns. He sentences Kael and the Blood Elves to death for surviving due to Naga aid against the Scourge. Because of this you get why Kael joins Illidan after Vashj saves him from execution. This campaign also had my favorite missions. Once Kael meets up with Illidan, he Vashj and Illidan close the portals in Outland and recruit the Draenei Akame to their cause against the Pit Lord Magtheridon who controls the planet with his orcs and demons. After that is the final mission where you conquer Outland, Kil’jaeden holds Illidan to his contract and all of you are sent to Northrend to the destroy the Lich King. It was this contract that Illidan to seek the “Eye of Sargeras” in the first place. This campaign is so much fun. I wish the Naga had been a playable faction as I used them far more than the Blood Elves when I could.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Scourge Campaign: Legacy of the Damned – The Undead Campaign is fun. It is here we see the rise of the Forsaken who will be a crucial faction in “World of Warcraft” as well as Arthas’s arc being completed as he goes from the exiled King running from Demons (both external in the Dreadlords who own Lordaeron and internal in those he killed to get here) leading to him becoming one with Ner’Zhul as the Lich King. It is super rewarding to get there and Arthas shows why he is such a great foe. The last 3 missions are the hardest in the game and they force you to truly strategize. Seeing the rise of “The Forsaken” and Sylvanas control Varimathras the Dread Lord was much needed. Her tragic story from “Reign of Chaos” needed payback and “The Frozen Throne” does this really well. By the end of her story she owns Lordaeron with her undead. This was the most challenging and rewarding of the campaigns. The final mission against Illidan was the best where I realized I couldn’t wait him out and destroy his base and had to finish taking the points was what I love about gaming.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Bonus Campaign: The Founding of Durotar – The “Bonus Campaign” gives you a great pulse on where the Horde and Alliance relationship is currently. We see it all through the eyes of Rexxar a half-orc Mok’Nothal who helps Thrall’s Horde settle in Durotar. From here you face quests from clearing out Harpies and Kobolds to recruiting a Panderan Brewmaster and getting Rokhan a Jungle Troll who also joins your team. The story is told in 3 Acts. Act 1 involves you helping Gazlowe with the Kobolds, Drek’Thar with the Thunder Lizards while also clearing out Warlocks. Act 2 involved you getting over to Jaina when her father Admiral Proudmoore attacks and you recruiting Ogres, the Tauren once more and saving the Jungle Trolls so that all of you can stop the Admiral. Those 2 missions are fantastic and the “Diablo” feel from playing as heroes was a lot of fun. I can see how “Heroes of the Storm” and “Defense of the Ancients” arose from this campaign and the Tower Defense of the final mission.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“The Frozen Throne” is an expansion that improves everything from the first game. My only real issue with is is that the Naga weren’t a playable faction beyond campaign, but that is still better than the “Halo Wars” Franchise that took an expansion to make anyone outside of the UNSC playable and “The Flood” still aren’t a faction. This game didn’t have those problems. They started with 4 factions and made each of them better, while still giving us playable Naga in the campaign. This game made “World of Warcraft” and “Heroes of the Storm” happen and as much as I dislike some story choices in “World of Warcraft” it at least was willing to explore the lore that this game and “Reign of Chaos” made possible. After “Warcraft III: Reforged” which is this game and “Reign of Chaos” combined, I can’t wait to see what was changed and comparing the stories.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 One of the best RTS games I’ve played.

 

Mother Russia Bleeds: A Wonderfully Dark Beat ‘Em Up

      “Mother Russia Bleeds” might be my favorite Beat ‘Em Up of all time. This is a game full of rich lore, fun gameplay and really brutal and beautiful design. What helped was playing it with my wife and one of my closest friends. Just the experience of us working together to figure out the pattern of the boss fights as we advanced through Russia really was such an amazingly fun experience. Before I get into details about the game itself and spoilers, I definitely recommend checking it out if you are a fan of Beat ‘Em Up style games.

“Mother Russia Bleeds” is an indie game created by the France based studio Le Cartel Studio and was published by Devolver Digital. Frédéric Coispeau designed the game with Alexandre Muttoni being the artist and director. The game itself was released in 2016.

The premise of the game is that you are four Roma who are used in street fights to make money in the slums. After your friend betrays you to the government you find yourself experimented on. After escaping the lab, you seek revenge against all those who wronged you.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Graphics – This is a beautiful 8-bit game. The game is dark and gritty while at the same time giving color where it is appropriate. Whenever you are fighting mafia or are in club, the colors stand out. The game becomes progressively more colorful until you get to the end where red and black are the main contrasts. This is a beautifully brutal game and I love the artistic choices the artists made when designing bosses (military generals, butchers, mad scientists) as you advance through the game as you unravel the conspiracy.

Difficulty – This was a difficult game. I’m glad that I didn’t play this alone. There are a few boss battles and fight sequences where having more than one person helps you figure out and learn the patterns. The greatest example of this is the helicopter attacking through a window as you fight oncoming goons. It is stressful and that was one point where the three of us took a break. Same went for the final boss too. He had 3 phases and each phase was harder than the last. This is a game where the build up in difficulty is progressive and challenging. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it. A game should make you better at it, and that can only come through challenge.

The Gameplay – Beat ‘Em Ups are a fun style of game. In this case it is also a side scroller too, so you can’t go back to where you were before. This provides a good challenge as when you knock enemies off screen you can’t attack them again until they’ve returned to the window of the fight. I really enjoyed the gameplay. You have Nekro which lets you heal up but also powers you up for a super move as well. There are also isn’t healing everywhere and you can only get Nekro from certain enemies you’ve killed at a certain time. This keeps the tension up as you advance through the levels. There is also a great enemy variety. You fight gangsters, zombies, soldiers, mob bosses, masochists in pig masks and quite a few others. The enemies all have different attack styles as well. This is a game that you have to learn. It isn’t easy and that makes all the more amazing. The final boss is another great example of this. The incarnation of Nekro is the punk rock skeleton who has three phases. One phase is fighting copies of yourself and a closing in wall that you throw syringes at, phase two are living syringes and muscle dropping down and the final phase is the boss itself in 2 forms. It is hard and so very rewarding.

The World and Story – The game takes place just before the Russian Revolution. You are Four Roma (Sergei, Ivan, Natasha and Boris) who are betrayed by your friend Mikhail and given to the government to be experimented on. You survive but become addicted to Nekro in the process. From here you are seeking revenge against your former friend and end up helping another friend as the revolution begins. It is a dark, violent and twisted world as you are the lowest rung in society and everyone wants you dead. You end up in some fascinating environments too on your quest for revenge. You fight in a sex club where you fight people in pig masks and battle against a giant butcher at the end, you fight on a train, against military officers and police and finally against a living embodiment of the drug itself. It is in the final fight where my wife and our friend ended up getting the bad ending. If you use the drug to defeat the final boss than you die of an overdose and are remembered by the revolution. If you succeed without using the drug than a statue is made to honor you in how you helped the revolution. We got the bad ending, which I honestly thought was more realistic to the world the story takes places in and was the better story.

As you can tell, I loved this game. This is a Beat ‘Em Up better than “X-Men” or the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” games. I enjoyed both of those games but this one built on the core fun base game they had. The fact that the story has a point gives even more power to it. It is a tragedy about addiction as well as just how costly revolutions are on the people, while also recognizing the importance of fighting corruption. Our protagonists are the lowest within society and them grabbing their own agency lends power to the narrative as they seek revenge against those who wronged them. This was a really fun game and I definitely plan to check out more games from this studio.

Final Score: 10 / 10 This is the perfect Beat ‘Em Up.

 

Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare – The Ongoing War

   “Halo Wars 2” is one of my favorite games. I have always had a soft spot for RTS (Real-time Strategy) games and this one is one of the best. Besides “Starcraft 2” it is the one I always come back to, especially if it means playing with friends. I’m a huge fan of the Halo Games (1-3, Reach and the first “Halo Wars”) and this game delivers on that lore you get in the Halo Universe. Before I get into spoilers, if you are a fan of RTS games you will probably love this one. The balance is really good between the two factions, the campaign variety is a lot of fun and the story is solidly good. It has also has quite a few fun multiplayer options that give it great replay value. I’ll be reviewing the game up to all that has been released so far (The initial game was released on February 21, 2017), which is currently up to the DLC “Rise of the Nightmare.” I’ll be giving individual scores to campaigns (Base Game, Operation: Spearkbreaker and Awakening of the Nightmare) before my overall assessment of the game itself.

The game was created by 343 Industries and Creative Assembly and produced by Microsoft Game Studios.

This is a game that picks up where “Halo Wars 1” left off following the crew of The Spirit of Fire after they crossed through the portal at the end of the second game. The story follows them as they face off against a new threat for Ex-Covenant Soldiers known as “The Banished.” They are lead by Atriox, a powerful Brute leader who is seeking to take control of The Ark, something so powerful that with control, they would easily capture the Galaxy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I am a huge fan of this Universe. I’ve never been the biggest fan of humanity since we don’t really see a diversity of opinion in the games and it is more of a Space Marine defending everything, which is a fun survival game to play, but isn’t compelling as Space Politics. The Universe has so much Space Politics in the Aliens of the Covenant and this game leans in on all of that. We get more lore for the UNSC with the crew of The Spirit of Fire being followed and we get a whole new faction in “The Banished.” Each faction has new heroes we meet and it is great to see them all interact. This Universe clearly isn’t done yet, as you’ll see from the campaign, things are left pretty open so I’m curious to see if “The Banished” are going to be incorporated into “Halo 6.” I love their heroes so it would be cool to see them become a permanent part of the Halo Universe beyond “Halo Wars 2.”

Gameplay and Multiplayer – Multiplayer is a lot of fun. As part of there are weekly and daily missions where you unlock playing cards you can use in Firefight and other multiplayer modes, there is standard multi-player as well and in all of them you have the many Commanders with some being Halo Wars 2 originals like YapYap, Atriox and Isabel and some who are carryover characters from the first Halo Wars like the Arbiter you fight in “Halo Wars 1.” Within standard gameplay you have hero powers you unlock as you progress in the game, like the first “Halo Wars.” Each commander has unique special units and powers as well, which leads to a greater variety of choices and replayability. When you are in a game and you and your friend are co-oping against a great opponent there are some amazing moments of synergy that can be created.

File:HW2 Campaign Loadscreen.jpg

Halo Wars 2 Main Campaign – The main campaign is fun. It is here we meet Atriox and his “Banished” as well as the new A.I. Isabel, who was with other human’s on the arc before Atriox’s arrival. The story follow Captain Cutter working with Isabel and the Spartans on the ground as they work to push back Atriox’s forces and prevent them from activating a Halo Ring. Captain Cutter, Anders and the UNSC are successful but the final shot is of Atriox watching a map of the Ark, showing us how clearly his forces still own it, even after all the setbacks he’s faced since the UNSC arrival. There is great mission variety and you learn a lot about “The Banished” pretty quick and how they were a Covenant Suicide Squad until Atriox rebelled and proceeded to conquer and recruit through the galaxy.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. Really good for developing the lore but doesn’t feel like a whole story. We have some great arcs like Isabel’s completed, and the gameplay is fun. But besides that it is mostly Atriox’s forces being slowly broken down and his big plan being prevented.

File:HW2 OperationSpearbreaker Banner.png

Operation: Spearbreaker – This DLC follows a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers called Sunray 1-1, as they uncover and stop the plot of a “Banished” Hunter leader named Colony. These missions were easier than the hardest in the base campaign and also not as fun. You are primarily investigating with your troops until you uncover the Forerunner Ship that Colony is trying to activate, than it becomes all out war and becomes more enjoyable as Colony sends all of it’s forces at you. This one is fun but easily the weakest of all the content. I couldn’t tell you the personality of anyone in Sunray and the only interesting character is Colony, but we don’t really get to know it, beyond it being a very smart and clever Hunter.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Solidly enjoyable, but not replayable.

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Awakening the Nightmare – I was a fan of the “Covenant” in Halo Franchise, at least in regards to being a fan of the aliens who made up the Covenant. I was Team Arbiter the moment he was playable in “Halo 2” and “Halo 3” and I’ve wanted to play as the alien factions in Halo Universe for as long I’ve played “Halo” which for me dates all the way back to High School. In “Halo Wars 1” the “Covenant” don’t have a campaign and sadly for much of “Halo Wars 2” they didn’t either, until “Awakening the Nightmare.” For me this was something I’d been waiting for a long time and I was not disappointed. This was challenging gameplay and a really fun story as you have two Brute Brothers (Pavium and Voridus). They are investigating remains of the battle from “Installation 00” from the ending of the “Human-Covenant War” for technology. Voridus being stupid awakens the Flood in his investigation of the dead Covenant ship High Charity after he shuts down the Forerunner Defenses. From here he and his brother Voridus must reactivate the Sentinels and stop the Flood and a Proto-Gravemind from taking over the Ark. Pavium is the smart one who had warned him the first place and holds the line as they end up facing off against The Flood together before a final victory. It is an awesome fight and Pavium is one one of my favorite commanders in multiplayer and Halo Lore. I really hope we see these two brothers again as “The Banished” really need a win against the UNSC, and this mission showed that even against overwhelming odds they are Atriox’s survivors and warriors for a reason.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great and finally a “Banished” campaign.

Okay:

Story Consequences – We have had 2 DLCs released as well as the base game but it feels like nothing has happened. Atroix’s forces have continued to lose ground and the UNSC continues to become more powerful but there hasn’t been any real major change. I want to see where this story goes and have characters change in a way that either builds on the Universe further (more than the existence of “The Banished” already does) and leads to some sort of ending. I’m good with that being a peace treaty or something that has Atriox winning for once, but it feels like we have been given so much game but things haven’t changed very much at all beyond status quo of “The Banished” losing ground. What happened to Anders and “The Halo?” Do the Flood exist elsewhere in the Galaxy as a faction? (I’d love them to be playable, even if it was only multiplayer, there should be enough game assets to do so). I put this as okay because I still enjoyed my time with the characters and the campaigns are fun. I’m still holding out for a major “Banished” win and them becoming a major part of the Halo Games moving forward. This story has the potential to not be a repeat of “Halo Wars 1” and not repeating “Halo 1-3.”

The Cons:

Microsoft Issues – To buy the full game it is expensive. The DLC, even when sold discounted isn’t cheap. Some Commanders on their own are nearly $10 and each new DLC, even if it includes commanders usually starts at $20. Given how expensive the base game was for so long that always rubbed me the wrong way. I also wasn’t a fan with how I continue to have issues with connecting online because of the Microsoft Server. It makes me miss the days of old Battle.net and games where you didn’t have to log onto a 3rd Party Account to play a game. Whenever you have to log on you are beholden the problems of whatever is hosting you be it Steam or Microsoft. So yeah the price and Microsoft bugs are major cons that keep the game from being great.

“Halo Wars 2” is one of my favorite games and if you love the Halo Universe, you will probably love it too. I play it on PC and I think that is the way any RTS should be played. Controllers were not made for playing RTS games and I have no idea how anyone does it. I can’t wait to see where Microsoft takes this game and Universe. There is still so much potential there and so much more story to explore. This is a really good game and I continue to play multiplayer with my friends as this wonderful game continues to inspire my passion for the rich lore of the Halo Universe. In the end the pros outway the cons for me and I expect I’ll probably always be coming back to this game. If they release another expansion for this game and give us more “Banished” content, you can expect to see that review on the blog. Their existence got me back into this amazing universe and I’m looking forward to all the stories that can be told.

 

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos – Fun RTS Gameplay and Solid Fantasy Redemption Story

   “Warcraft III” and the original “Starcraft,” are the games that got me into RTS games, along with “Age of Empires II” and “Rise of Nations.” Does “Reign of Chaos” hold up? I would say yes, there are some things Blizzard did that took away from the strategy a little bit (adding hero units which turned multiplayer into a rush game). I really enjoyed this, for someone who grew on Tolkien no one had subverted the “Orcs are bad.” trope until “Warcraft III.”

In regards to how I review this first game of 2 (I plan to review “The Frozen Throne” after I beat it again), it holds up and I’ll give a brief analysis on gameplay (pros and cons) and how the story was. The story in the end will be my overall judge for any game where the gameplay is at least enjoyable. Like my films I enjoy my games being compelling and having a narrative that pulls me in.

For giving recognition where it is due, Chris Metzen wrote the story (which explains why he is the head of storytelling on WOW for best and for worse) directed by Frank Fierce jr. and produced by Chris Sigaty.

The story picks up after Warcraft 2 (all the games so Draenor is destroyed and the Horde Orcs are defeated and in internment camps) and begins with Thrall freeing the rest of his people Lordaeron on promptings from a mysterious prophet. From here we trace the rise of the Scourge, the return of the demons of the Burning Legions and the introduction of the Night Elves.

SPOILERS ahead (old game so may not mean as much).

The Pros: The Gameplay – As stated above, the gameplay is too rushish in multiplayer but the Hero concept payed off. I wouldn’t being loving “Heroes of the Storm” if not for this game. So I take the pros over the cons and in the end it is pro. Each hero has unique ability, and depending on your playstyle (I tend to go for auras over abilities) helps in the campaign, custom and multiplayer games. In the end the campaign was fun, which is a win for me. I enjoyed playing this game again after not playing it since High School, and can’t wait to replay the expansion.

The Alliance – We only really get to see the Fall of Lordaeron in this and the rest of the Alliance is purposely left out. I get this as in if the game fails, we get the fall of the Alliance from past “Warcraft” games, but if it succeeds….we get “World of Warcraft” which is still going with the most recent game being “Legion.” The fall is told really well, with Arthas killing people in “The Purge of Stratholme” to save them from being enslaved, and going mad after. It is compelling and in the end the Scourge wins ending with Arthas turning on his troops, sacraficing his friend Magni and killing his father the King, leading into the next campaign. Arthas is the drive and seeing his fall is how Anakin in in the Star Wars Prequels should have been done.

The Scourge – The Scourge Campaign involves Arthas destroying his own nation after the killing of his father after the end of the Human Campaign. It is really good. You start out weak, resurrecting the Necromancer Kel’Thuzad who you killed during Arthas’s fall to empower the Scourge and bring in the Burning Legion who are behind it all and the big threat from all past Warcraft games. It is really good and you get to see how Arthas without a soul is like. He is funny and also evil as hell. He kills his mentor Uther, destroys the Kirin Tor (who is the faction of his complicated relationship – Jana) and in the end feels powerless until he returns later in the last campaign. He feels like a pawn but empowered in his malice and it is Kel’Thuzad who hits at the plans to come as Ner’zhul predicted the fall and conquest and his freedom and Scourge sovereignty out of it.

The Horde – The Horde is complicated, back in Middle School they were my favorite faction, and I still love playing compicated orcs, nowadays though. Grom, who “redeems” the orcs only fights. Thrall who is the Warchief is constantly keeping him in check and even though Grom kills the big bad (after he kills a good demigod) doesn’t redeem him in my eyes. This campaign was fun, but Grom pissed me off. Thrall was good but he never apologizes to Jana (who is Arthas’s complicated and brings the survivors of Lordaeron to Kalimdor) and only sees Grom as hero. Th orcs deserved better and World of Warcraft really hasn’t redeemed them yet. They are still conquerors and not fully refugees and that is a toxic narrative. I’m a fan of the orcs and this time around could not embrace them. They don’t see what they do as wrong and only live to fight, which even if they aren’t the evil of Tolkien orcs doesn’t put them on par with the Night Elves and Humans. They deserved better in this game, though still putting as a pro. This was the only time I’ve played orcs in a somewhat redeeming light and I want more of that. They are a compelling species and I love their aesthetic.

The Night Elves – The Night Elves story is short but awesome. You have the warrior women who protect the forests and bring in the Druids when things to get apocalyptic. Tyrande, the Priestess of the Moon is a fanatic but you get her perspective given she hasn’t had Outsiders in 10,000 years and in the end she appreciates the orcs and humans who defend Mount Hyjal and the World Tree from the big bad Archimonde who wants to consume Azeroth. Furion is standard wise old guy but fighting with the Druids of the Claw was fun, Illidan is the Boba Fett in this game where he was trapped and fights for himself because all have wronged him and stars in 1 mission (but has an awesome aesthetic). I enjoyed this campaign and wanted at least 1 more with Illidan to develop him further, though I know the expansion to this game does that really well. This is where the complicated characters are. Jana is savior and love interest and doesn’t get beyond that and the Kirin Tor and King are (you know us from Warcraft II lore if you read the books) which coming back to the game wasn’t enough. The Night Elves campaign is short but it is a rich campaign.

The Fall of Arthas – The most compelling story in this game is that of Arthas. He turns on the past allies of the High Elves and kills their general Sylvanas (who I want to say now is amazing come “The Frozen Throne” given what goes down this game). He kills his further, turns on his allies. Consumed by revenge he forsakes everything for the power to achieve his revenge. He is the perfect Anakin and I get why “Wrath of the Lich King” is so memorable even though I haven’t played and avoid MMORPGS.

The Introduction of Illidan – Illidan’s introduction is great. He isn’t to be trusted but he kills the big bads while serving himself. He is the perfect anti-hero in Warcraft. He has no destiny or prophecy at this point…he is a hero who messed up and was wronged acting out. This makes his mission fun and why I was drawn to him after so many years replaying. Can’t wait see his story unfold again in “The Frozen Throne.”

Defeating the Burning Legion – This is a win that pays off. We see them come during the Scourge Campaign and even though Thrall and Grom defeat the general Mannaroth, we saw Archimonde decimate a kingdom in the Scourge cinematic. The threat is always real, especially with most Night Elf missions being a race against time, and this is them with allies and them having defeated the Burning Legion in the past. The payoff is amazing and holding Archimonde back to the second with Tyrande and Furion to the second was such a rewarding playthrough. For me every Night Elf mission mattered, both from challenge and investment in the characters.

Okay: More Exploration / Missions Could Have Made Perfect – Grom should have been shown being noble and not just a blood lust fighter to make his redemption mean something and not just him escaping his addiction to battle, Jaina deserved a mission escaping from the Scourge and her former lover Arthas and to give her more agency and the Night Elves needed a mission to work with the Alliance and Horde…a custscene wasn’t enough given Grom killed one of their Gods. This took away from making the game perfect.

Grom’s “Redemption” -This guy only lives for fighting. He has a great look, but he needed more. We never saw him as loving any more than war, he cared about Thrall and felt bad but each time that mattered he went back to fighting. There is no reason for Thrall to trust him or for the Horde to be forgiven beyond “The End of the World” in the Night Elf campaign. He deserved better given that the character came back in “Warlords of Draenor” and his son was Warchief of the Horde…and like his dad ruined it. I am a fan of the Horde, I like orcs as not simply bad guys…but Warcraft’s redemption doesn’t fully work. Chris Metzen was the writer and the Horde deserved better if they were going to be redeemed. I want good orcs, but you won’t get them from Grom killing Mannaroth. The flaws run to deep if Grom wants to fight every mission, him killing his species enslaver (Mannaroth), doesn’t justify him willing to kill anyone for not being an orc through the campaign. Looks cool, but the guy is deplorable.

“Reign fo Chaos” is a flawed and amazing game that is well worth your time if you enjoy RTS games. I can’t wait to replay “The Frozen Throne” given how fun Arthas and Illidan are to play as heroes and I love the “Forsaken” campaign, which was actually a great set-up for the Forsaken joining the Horde in WoW and further Sylvanas development. This game is self contained, it is set-up to be self contained if it fails given the big bads are beaten and we have a world that no longer needs “Guardians.” For this reason I rate the game highly. There is some great character development, even if I wanted more for the orcs and night elves. If you like fantasy games or rts’s check this game out. It has been out for years, but is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.3  / 10. A solidly great fantasy RTS game.

Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void – Gameplay Over Story

 “Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void” is the perfect point of gameplay over story, which is a shame because this is a story that is trying to do a lot. The game it is most similar too is probably “Mass Effect 3” with Moebius Corp as Cerberus and Hybrids and Void entities as Reapers with an ending that isn’t really set up all that well and putting drama and rule of cool over character choices that actually make sense. The gameplay is top notch, like “Mass Effect 3” too. The one thing that puts it above “Mass Effect 3” for me though is that the character choices do make some level of sense in the end (the exception being the Epilogue) and that is where Blizzard showed themselves to be better storytellers than EA/Bioware in this instance. I’ll get into what I mean deeper into the review.

The story picks up where we left off with Amon coming into the Universe. We first follow Zeratul who witnesses his rebirth and escapes to warn Executor Artanis who is about to begin the retaking of Aiur with the Golden Fleet. Things soon go awry when Amon takes control of the Khala forcing Artanis on the run as he must unite different Protoss factions against Amon’s forces and the Golden Fleet, Amon now controls.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – I love the universe of “Starcraft” and the main campaign does such an amazing job exploring it and giving so many more layers to the Protoss as a people. We meet more factions, see just how powerful Amon is and how insidious his influence is as well as see how difficult it is for a people to change as this is the game that at the core is about the Protoss changing as a species as the only way to defeat Amon is to make an Alliance between the remaining protoss factions and defeat Amon’s armies as well as making sure he never enters into the physical realm from void.

The Transformation of the Protoss – The main arc of this game storywise is the Transformation of the Protoss. In this we see how the challenges to the Caste System and the Khala which began in the first game with the Dark Templar rejoining their Aiur breathren against the Zerg, and continues even further with a Preserver who advises Artanis and reacts negativly to all the Alliances he forms with the Nerazim (Protoss Sith Lords basically, Purifiers – AI Protoss and the Dark Templar). He constantly challenges her assumptions and shows it was the old ways that lead to the Overmind defeating them in the first place and that her holding onto the Khala is causing Amon to possess and destroy her. It is a great arc and we see them come together as one in the final fight against Amon before he can gain a body.

The Hero’s Journey of Artanis – The main journey is that of Artanis as he steps up to the mantel of leadership and must face his insecurities and guilt, as when Amon possess him he kills Zeratul before Zeratul can free him, and this is after Zeratul warned him that Aiur had already fallen to Amon and that he was going into a trap. He carries this forward and does everything can can to broker peace among the Protoss factions and within himself and new allies challenge him to become a better leader and introduce him to new perspectives that he integrates through the course of the story.

John De Lancie’s Alarak – Alarak is part of Tal’darim, the enemy Protoss introduced in “Wings of Liberty” who worship Amon and are apocalyptic in their aims. They are essentially Protoss Sith as their philosophy is based on dominance and strength and they care for nothing but the individual. Alarak is a shining example of this as he only joins with Artanis when he realizes that Amon will destroy them when his intentions are revealed so he goes to take control of the Tal’darim and bring the war to Amon. He is a hilarious character who has so much sass. Anyone he talks to, he shuts down and in the end he goes his own way as well, refusing to rebuild on Aiur and rejoin his people. He’s a punk who is powerful and fun and really shows just how diverse the Protoss are in mindset.

The Protoss Factions – There are the Purifiers who are A.I. who gained sentience and rebelled and must trust their organic counterparts again (and one hold Fenix’s memories), the Dark Templar lead by Voruzan (who really should have gotten more development in this game), the Preserver of the Spear of Adun who holds onto the old ways and history, a Phase-Smith who becomes a hero and Templar rising in his caste and Alarak, the sassy Tal’darim who is in an Alliance of convenience with our heroes. I loved clicking them and getting their perspectives in the different scenes. Each showed just how layered and complex the Protoss are a species.

Unit Choices in Battle – As you recruit different factions you can choose what units you can bring into battle. Tal’darim have damage based unit types, Aiur Protoss are about shields, Purifiers are strong units and the Dark Templar are the infiltrators. Depending on the mission different units will serve you better. This was a lot of fun and gave a different dynamic to how to go about completing missions.

Mission Variety – This game has the best mission variety out of all the different Starcraft IIs. Whether it was defending resources and moving to different gather points on a moving metal disk, stopping a base from crashing into the Dominion homeworld and having to repair and defend it, a countdown to prevent Amon from getting his body and countless others. All of them were a lot of fun and felt epic in scale.

Co-op Missions – Co-op campaigns are what kept me coming back after finishing the main campaign. In Co-op games you choose a hero and level them up as you face off against Amon’s forces. Kerrigan was the first I leveled up fully as you use her abilities that strengthen her and the unit composition of her army. Since release there have been many more released with my favorite new character being Dehaka who leads a pack of Primal Zerg. The fact that each commander is different keeps the game interesting since I haven’t really done multiplayer. I seriously recommend Co-op. It is the best example of how great the gameplay got in “Legacy of the Void.”

The Cons: Rule of Cool – One of the annoying things about this game was how often it went to “Rule of Cool,” like “Mass Effect 3” did on countless occasions when ever Cerberus was involved. The best example of this are the times that Artanis goes in alone. He is leading his entire species and he refuses to let anyone come with him. I get the Protoss are honor bound but the entire Universe is at stake. This is how the Rule of Cool can become the Rule of Stupid. To create a cool looking fight characters will do stupid things to bring about impossible battles and due to plot armor will win. I hate that type of garbage storytelling and a few of the cutscenes were just that.

The Epilogue – The epilogue is a lot of fun to play, you get to play with the Protoss, Terran and Zerg armies. First with the Protoss as you fight Narud in the Void, second the Terran as you defend Kerrigan turning into a Xel’Naga and finally as the the Zerg and Kerrigan where you break down Amon’s defenses so that Kerrigan can kill him. It is gameplay over story as there is one missing Xel’Naga who was trapped for some reason and turns Kerrigan into a Xel’Naga / God. It is so silly. The only things I liked about it was the combat and the fact that Kerrigan saw it as a way to atone for her sins as the Queen of Blades. This is the only way it worked, and I did like the afterword that Zagara as the Overqueen leading the new Swarm. Still was mostly stupid, the fight against Amon should have been the main mission given how dangerous he is. Making it an epilogue made the story that they set up in Wings of Liberty feel rushed and poorly thought out.

“Legacy of the Void,” for all of the flaws it has is well worth your time. Gameplaywise it is the best of the Trilogy and storywise has the main flaws that littered the entire Trilogy with rushed setups and failure to have payoffs. They did kill off Zeratul which for me puts it above “Wings of Liberty” in story though. This story did take risks, and the overall theme of uniting the Protoss in the main campaign was fantastic. In the end I’d rate it slightly below “Heart of the Swarm” but above “Wings of Liberty.” The Epilogue hurts the final score the most as does Rule of Cool but it is still a game that I can’t help but recommend. I haven’t played the Nova DLC but if I do that will be a future review. For now, Blizzard had a good end to their series, even if it failed to reach greatness in the final chapter/Epilogue.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10